Stolen Gift Cards, a Scammer’s Trick, IRS Warnings, and Resistance to American Business

Here is a clue to spot fake email addresses and web pages. By studying a recent scam in the publishing world (a man was stealing unpublished manuscripts), I learned something. Scammers may discourage you by creating an email address or website with the letters “rn” instead of an “m”. For example, the word home is replaced by horne. It seems close enough that you might not notice it. See how easy it is to be fooled?

Thank you readers who informed The Watchdog that the Texas Real Estate Commission no longer handles complaints about home warranty companies. This task now belongs to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulationwhich has even created an ombudsman position to help consumers in the event of a delay or denial of a complaint.

A decimal point makes a difference. The Watchdog salutes Roger May who filed a complaint with the (p)ublic Utility Commission, which is quite telling. He wants the state PowerToChoose.org power buying site to display an extra decimal place for the price per kilowatt hour when comparing price offers from power companies.

Follow this: May signed up for 10.9 cents per kWh, but learned it was actually 10.94 cents. It’s rounded to 10.9 when he says it should be rounded to 11.0 cents, a more accurate price when shopping. Adding that extra comma will make the price more accurate, he told regulators. It’s a good idea, which means the power companies won’t accept it.

My heart is broken. On a personal note, when I’m not watching, I write plays and books. My new play about the life of Ross Perot Sr. is scheduled for February 11th at the Wheelice (Pete) Wilson Jr. Theater at Coppell Art Center. The theater is named after Wilson because he fought to convince the city to build the $22 million arts center. He taught drama at Coppell High for 36 years and co-founded Coppell Theatera local community theater, over 30 years ago.

It was Pete’s decision to produce and direct my new Perot play. He cast it, designed the set and programmed the performances. But last week, my acting mentor passed away. He was 74 years old. My play turns out to be the last play of his life devoted to local theatre. We will dedicate performances to him.

Tickets for PEROT! american patriot are on sale for a series of nine shows at the theater named after Pete. Visit PerotBook.com for tickets and information. And I hope Pete can see it from the sky.

Opening of the new Financial Crimes Intelligence Center. The state has created a new way to catch crooks. The center, operating out of Tyler, is designed to help law enforcement combat credit card fraud, including fraud at gas pumps and payment terminals. We need all the help we can get.

Chaos in Denton County. The Denton County Commissioners Court has written to the Denton Central Assessment District Board of Directors regarding the job performance of Chief Assessor Hope McClure. County leaders decry “the chaos coming out of Denton CAD”.

“A software conversion has resulted in the delay of certified tax rolls to tax entities and accurate tax statements to property owners,” the letter said. For this reason, the county finalized its budget based on estimates, not actual numbers.

I previously reported that Beverly Henley, the former chair of the Denton County Assessment Review Board, which handles home value protests, filed a complaint with the county and state about McClure.

McClure defended his performance, but the last thing Denton County owners need is a dysfunctional judging district. It’s here.

Good news from Frontier Communications. These words never go together. But Frontier reported that last year it saw its first broadband customer growth in five years. The company emerged from bankruptcy under new management, which apparently stopped the flood of cancellations.

Gift cards are risky. I’ve heard several readers tell me that the gift cards they bought or received didn’t work because the thieves figured out how to steal the codes and clean the cards. Best Advice: Use gift cards as soon as possible.

Spam refresher course. Christina Williams of Wirecutter remember that spamming your cell phone – called smishing – is illegal. Companies are supposed to get permission to text or email you. You can add your phone number to Federal Trade Commission Do Not Call Listt. But good luck with that. Report the number to FTC Fraud Site. Never reply or click on links in a message. Block the sender and forward the text to SPAM (7726).

Visit a company before hiring. Recently, when I was reviewing my Watchdog Nation Fundamentals, I heard Carl Langbein from Midlothian write: “I was disappointed you didn’t add that before contracting a supplier of services, you personally visit their facilities. The quality of their offices and the way they are maintained will tell you a lot about whether you should employ them. An A+ idea.

Tax advice: Make sure your tax preparer has an IRS preparer tax identification number. All paid preparers must have a PTIN. Do not sign a blank statement. Your refund should go to your bank account, not the preparer’s. The IRS will not call you for legal action. Hang up on fake IRS phone scammers. Don’t respond to text messages, emails, or social media posts threatening legal action. Do not click on links or provide financial information to senders.

Call blockers. I hear good feedback from AT&T mobile customers who use the free version AT&T CallProtect App which blocks calls from anyone not in your address book. Calls are sent to voicemail. In the app, go to block, then unknown callers, then tap send to voicemail. Likewise, there is T-Mobile Anti-Scam Shield and Verizon call filter.

Today’s Watchdog Nation Perseverance Award goes to two Dallas County residents who have not given up in their uphill battle against corporate America. Nancy Bateman recently found $1,300 worth of American Express travelers checks purchased by her older brother in 1996 before he was killed by a car. “Thanks to your encouragement to persevere,” she wrote to me, “it took several months of searching, but I finally managed to find the right person to cash these checks. Rather amazing.

Jennifer Miller’s problem was with Southwest Airlines. His 5:30 a.m. flight was canceled the day before. She wanted Southwest to cover the cost of her unplanned hotel stay, meals, and ground transportation. Southwest told him that he generally does not reimburse expenses when a passenger cannot travel, but that he would consider it a gesture of goodwill. Southwest asked him to provide proof of his expenses. She did it. Thrice. It took three months, but last week a check for $600 arrived. “There were times when I was ready to quit,” she says, “but I kept telling myself that I had to see this all through.”

Perseverance. In Watchdog Nation, this usually pays off.

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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ top column writing award. The contest judge called his winning works “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”

Read his winning columns:

* Assist the widow of Officer JD Tippit, the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, to be buried next to her late husband

* Help a waitress injured by an unscrupulous used car dealer

Michael N. Clark